Work in Sports
Not a fair fight
U.S. boxers continue to draw short straw
SYDNEY, Australia -- Did the U.S. get jobbed again? Probably not. Featherweight Ricardo Juarez, the team's only world champion to fight for a gold medal here, seemed overmatched Sunday. Kazakhstan's Bekzat Sattarkhanov seemed to have too much reach, too much everything. That's not to say the fight was fair, though.
Juarez not only was battling Sattarkhanov but, he said, the ref as well. "I was wondering to myself," Juarez said after he'd lost a 22-14 decision, "When is the ref going to take a point from this fighter, when is he going to warn him?"
Sattarkhanov repeatedly grabbed and clutched at the smaller Juarez, preventing him from fighting inside. The ref repeatedly broke them apart but never once penalized the fighter. And Juarez began to get doubly suspicious when, after each interference, the fighter would say something to the ref. "The same word each time," Juarez said. "And I thought, Something's going wrong."
The ref, Stanislav Kirsanov, happens to be Russian, igniting a fire of conspiracy theories. Said U.S. team manager Gary Toney, who immediately filed a protest: "He's supposed to be the best in Europe, so it's difficult to understand how he would be so incompetent today." By Toney's count, the ref broke nine clinches. It is "customary," in his words, to penalize points on the third and fourth warning and to disqualify the fighter on the fifth. "A travesty, another outrageous decision," he said.
Added U.S. coach Tom Mustin: "The playing field is slanted, and it's slanted toward Europe. It's obvious they're in it together."
The U.S. frustration, of course, had a lot to do with failing to win even one gold medal this trip. When light-welterweight Ricardo Williams fell behind Uzbekistan's Mahamadkadyz Abdullaev, the reigning world champion, and couldn't rally in his fight, this team became the first Americans to return home without a gold since 1948. "I'm in the history books," sighed Mustin, "the wrong way. And it's too bad because we've come a long way since we hit bottom in '97."
It just seems that Olympic boxing, which has a history of allowing U.S. fighters to be ganged up on ( Evander Holyfield was DQ'd in 1984, Roy Jones Jr. improperly decisioned in 1988), hasn't come even that far.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Richard Hoffer covered the boxing competition in Sydney for the magazine and CNNSI.com.